What You Need to Know Before Hiring Freelancers

5 min read • Jun 02, 2020 • Grant Olsen

Welcome to the age of freelancers. Sure, freelance labor has always been a thing. Samurai warriors worked for hire in 15th century Japan. Privateers such as Francis Drake carried out all manner of mischief for their monarchs on a contract basis in the years that followed. And Pet Sounds, the beloved Beach Boys album, features for-hire performances from the musicians of the legendary Wrecking Crew.

But the past decade has seen an unprecedented rise in independent workers. Part of this trend is generational, as fewer Americans feel obligated to follow the traditional route of attending college, working the same job for 40–50 years, and then retiring with a pension. There isn’t anything wrong with that model, but it has never been one-size-fits-all.

Younger generations are more likely to view college and careers with scrutiny. If it works for them and offers value, they’ll commit. Otherwise, they’ll seek alternatives more aligned with their lifestyle and priorities.

In 2014, there were 53 million freelancers in America. Jump ahead just 6 years and that number has climbed to 57 million, with about 35% of American workers currently wearing the badge of “freelancer.”

“It’s mostly about freedom,” explains a freelance industry analysis from Forbes. “[Freelancers] don’t want to sit in a cubicle with someone telling them what to do. Full-time freelancers say the top draws of self-employment are flexibility (77%), followed by being their own boss (77%) and working from the location of their choosing—and being able to choose their own projects (tied for 74%). Perhaps not surprisingly, freelancing is catching on with W-2 workers, too. 80% of non-freelancers say they would be willing to do additional freelance work to make more money, and 60% say they will do freelance work in the future.”

What’s In It for Employers?

The freelance life seems to be a match made in heaven for many workers, but let’s examine what it offers to those who employ them. It’s a two-way street, or else there would never be enough businesses willing to hire the tens of millions of Americans currently working as freelancers.

Here are some of freelancing’s major perks for employers:

  • Better quality of work and services: You get specialized results when you bring in an expert to handle specialized tasks. It’s undoubtedly impressive when full-time employees can wear multiple hats, but there’s no replacing the impact of an expert.
  • Better price: Full-time employees require full-time pay, not to mention the corresponding hiring efforts, health insurance, desk space, FICA or FUTA taxes, and other expenses. With freelancers, you just pay for the task at hand.
  • Better efficiency: Freelancers come in, accomplish a task, and then step back out. That’s much more efficient than having a full-time employee sitting around waiting for assignments to arrive or projects to begin.

Of course, there are potential downsides to using a freelancer. The independent nature of the relationship makes it harder to monitor their work and ensure accurate billing. It can also be harder to train them and prepare them for projects.

How to Find the Right Freelancer

Talking about the benefits and drawbacks of freelancers is a very generalized pursuit—after all, you have to paint with a fairly large brush if you’re going to describe 57 million people.

“It turns out you can find plenty of talented professionals online to help you grow your small business,” says business expert Joseph Liu. “It also turns out you can end up working with unqualified professionals who will make your life as a business owner much more difficult. I’ve been fortunate enough to find plenty of the former, but unfortunately, I’ve also had my fair share of the latter. I hired an animator who misrepresented her skills. I hired a podcast production consultant who claimed to be a technical expert but actually knew very little. And I hired multiple web developers who over-promised but under-delivered. All of these hiring mistakes were costly, time-consuming, and incredibly frustrating.” 

The ultimate goal in the hiring process is to weed out those who might cause issues down the line. Here are 6 tips for landing the best freelancer for your unique needs:

  1. Lock down the project: If you want to hire a specialist, you must clearly identify the project’s goals, budget, timeline, and required tasks.
  2. Create a freelancer profile: Once you know what the job entails, you’ll understand the skills necessary to bring it to pass. Outline the qualifications for your desired freelancer, including experience, rate, and schedule compatibility.
  3. List your job: Featuring clear details in your posting will always result in better candidate matches. You should also make sure to post the job on the most relevant websites, which will take some research.
  4. Review the applicants: If you did a solid job on the previous step, you’ll enjoy this step much more. Pay close attention to past work experience and how well each candidate’s skills align with the job’s requirements.
  5. Interview your top candidates: Perhaps a couple of freelancers will convincingly rise to the top of your list based on their applications. In most cases, you’ll want to interview the best 5–6 candidates. This approach allows you to contrast different personalities and skill sets in order to find your ideal match.
  6. Further evaluation: Your interviews will often reveal the prime choice of freelancer. But you may find it beneficial to assign a test project to your top 2–3 candidates. This evaluation allows you to gauge their responsiveness and real-time abilities.

Remember the importance of due diligence as you go through the hiring process. Urgent timelines might occasionally prevent you from proceeding as carefully as you’d prefer, but you should always make sure you feel confident before proceeding to the next step in the process.

Hiring freelancers is no different from any other aspect of business—the more time you spend on planning and execution, the fewer issues there will be on the back end. This way, you’ll set your small business up for positive freelancer experiences and prime results.

Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.